Uka and Michael were best friends.
Growing up together was filled with fun and adventure; it was not surprising Michael featured in most, if not all of her tales: They had known each other since she was three. He was a really great friend and Uka knew she loved him because she felt responsible for him and always had the belief that she has a vital part to play in his happiness.
Something about him drew her to him in a somewhat inexplicable way. Uka found almost everything about him endearing. Once, unknown to him, she caught him going through her lingerie drawer. He took a few out, examined them and smiled as he held one to his cheek and caressed it. Uka was amazed but kept quiet.
She gently went back down the stairs and came back up, this time making a lot of noise to alert Michael to her presence. Her room was located adjacent to the stairs at the rear entry of their home.Michael being inside her room was not an unusual occurrence.
“Hi Michael, mum told me you were here.” she greeted cheerfully. Looking casually towards her drawer to see if everything was back in place. She was only 16, but surprised at herself for not being grossed out seeing him fondle her underwear. This was a clear sign to her that she had a genuine soft spot for him.
They practically spent their entire lives growing up together and this they had come to consider the norm. No sooner than they had completed their secondary schooling, life took a different turn. Uka learnt that she would be travelling overseas to continue her studies. This meant leaving everyone behind, including Michael.
Anyone who knew them believed they had a romantic relationship, but this was not so. The bond they shared baffled even both of them. Neither one could explain or understand it.
The day her parents told her they were sending her to a university in New York was received with mixed emotions: she was getting the best news ever, but also knew she was about to lose a part of herself that meant so much to her.
Telling her friends the big news was not that much of a big deal. It was Michael she dreaded giving the news. The inevitable moment finally came that evening when she saw him whilst standing outside the gates of her home. Michael was buying some bread from mama Comfort’s stall a few yards down the road, so she waved him over.
Michael was a gentle giant. He stood at 6’5, with an average body build and slightly muscular frame. There was a deliberate slowness to his steps; everyone complained that he walked too fast. His solution was to slow down some. This was typical Michael style… anything to make everyone happy.
As he walked up towards the gates, she was filled with apprehension and sadness.
“Hi Michael, where have you been all day” she asked.
“I asked all the guys and no one knew where you were” she continued.
“Why? Missing me so much” He joked, looking quizzically at her, cupping her face with his hands and pretended to kiss her.
“Dream on…I have something to tell you…” she started to say when she heard her mother’s voice cut in.
“Uka! I want that gate closed! It’s either you come in or stay out. Either way I don’t want that gate left open.” her mother said loudly.
The rate of house robberies on the estate had drastically increased and robbers were beginning to get bolder by the day. It was not uncommon to be robbed in broad daylight. Gone were the days they waited for the darkness of the night to shroud their criminal activities. Uka was standing between the half opened gate so she stepped out and the gateman locked the gate behind her.
“What is so important you have been looking for me all day?”
“You know I’ll always stop by your house, abi”
“My parents are sending me to the US this long vacation.” She blurted out, not wanting to beat about the bush.
“I’ll be going to Uni over there and won’t be back for another two or three years at least.” She finished, looking sad and apologetic.
“Stop it. Are you trying to mess with me? Are you serious? What do you mean the US…” He looked puzzled and not sure he should take her seriously or not.
“Abi you wan do me April fool?” He continued, wanting to shrug off her look which told him she wasn’t kidding. He took out his loaf of bread began to tear little pieces out to eat.
“Want some?” he asked reaching out to give her the bread. She knew he would not take her seriously.
They had always said they would go to the same university. The sad thing was Michael did not quite make the cut off mark required for his majors, but they were confident his dad would call in some favours…this was Naija after all.
Uka just stared at him and the tears began to roll down her cheeks.
“Hey…it’s not so bad you know…you make it seem as though it’s the end of the world or something.” He tried to reassure her.
“Uka, it’s only the US you know…what is it? A 12 or 14 hour flight at the most. You should know that this won’t keep us apart, besides its still one month away, right? Still trying to reassure her, but she knew him only too well.
Michael had a way of coping with things; he has been doing this all his life. When his mum left their dad seven years ago, he developed a buffer for any and everything painful. He was 9 years old when this happened; he became withdrawn and pretty much began keeping to himself. The only persons he let into his world was his dad, his 3 year old little brother Sammy and of course Uka.
She knew his heart would be racing, but he was remaining calm for her sake. She knew he would grieve, but not just yet. He would go home, lie in bed stare up at the ceiling and most likely play some music to drown out his emotions.
“I think it’s getting late and you should go in before your mum calls for you” He said with concern. She knew he said this just to excuse himself. They had stayed outside longer than this in the past, but he wasn’t going to argue with him.
“I’ll see you at the Cube tomorrow, okay” he said, drawing closer to give her a hug and then banged on the gate to get the gateman’s attention to let her in. As she walked through the gate Michael immediately turned around and hurried home.
To be continued….